We hassle you for your own protection

I got to leave work early today. Around 10:30 this morning I got an e-mail from Sarai at a neighbor’s house telling me that she had locked herself out of our apartment. I told my boss what happened and that I’d have to leave for a bit to let her in and he said that rather than take BART home only to turn around and come right back, I could just stay home and they’d call me if anything came up. Excellent.

Since I had half the day ahead of me, I took the opportunity to beat the Saturday crowds and go to the bank and Target, where I bought, among other things, a full-length mirror and a big bag of cat litter. So I had one bag of stuff, plus these two items in my cart as I was leaving.

I’ll take a minute now to say that I have a policy of not stopping to let security guards check my receipt as I leave stores like Target or Best Buy or anywhere else that employs this obnoxious practice. I find it offensive to be treated like a suspected criminal, especially since in most cases, they watch you walk directly from the cash register before they stop you.

So anyway, as I’m walking toward the door, I see that the Target rent-a-cop is already busy hassling some (presumably innocent) woman. I went around them and was almost to the door when he called to me and asked if he could see my receipt. I said no and kept walking without looking at him. As I leave the store I hear this gang-banger-looking homeboy who was standing around talking to the security guard say “Did he just say no?”. I then hear “Did you just say NO to him?” directed at me. Just outside the door, I turned around and said yes, that’s what I said, and kept walking. A few seconds later I hear him (the baggy pants-wearing homeboy) following me outside yelling something else. The conversation at this point went something like this.

Homeboy: Don’t you fuckin’ get all in my homeboy’s face like that.
Me: Excuse me?
Homeboy: (getting closer, still with a raised voice) I said don’t talk to my co-worker like that.
Me: (stopping and turning around) What? I still can’t hear you.
Homeboy (finally reaching where I was waiting, in a normal tone of voice) I said, why do talk to my employee like that?

(he was actually getting quieter and more polite the closer to me he got)

Me: Because there’s no reason he needs to check my receipt and I didn’t feel like stopping and digging it out of my bag.
Homeboy: He’s required to ask that. I’m his supervisor, and I apologize for using profanity earlier. He could actually be fired because he didn’t check your receipt, but I’m going to let it go.
Me: That’s unfortunate, but I find it offensive to be treated as a suspected criminal when I just got through spending money at your store.
Homeboy: Nawww, we don’t check receipts because we think you stole something — we don’t care about that — we just want to make sure you weren’t overcharged at the register. We’re trying to help you.
Me: (speechless for a minute) Come on, you don’t believe that any more than I do.
Homeboy: He’s just doing his job.

I resisted the urge to make the obvious comment at this point because comparing Target rent-a-cops to Nazis is just a little over-the-top. Instead I just shrugged and turned around and walked to my car. Homeboy went back inside without saying anything else.

Without a doubt, the best part of this was when he said, in all seriousness and with a completely straight face, that they check receipts just to make sure their customers weren’t overcharged. I wonder if that’s the official company line or if he just came up with that on his own. I half expected him to claim that I could be charged with shoplifting if I refused to prove I had paid for my stuff. While it would certainly be interesting to see how a situation like that would play out once the police arrived, I think I probably would have just given him my receipt if it came to that. The alternative is way too much time and trouble just to make a point.


kscaldef says:

I think that is the official company line. However, the real reason is probably neither that, nor preventing shoplifting, but to make sure that the cashier didn’t intentionally undercharge you.

My uncle has owned a couple stores and restaurants and apparently this is actually a really big problem for employers. Employees will fairly regularly, and intentionally, fail to ring items up. The strange part is that they aren’t just hooking up their friends, and they aren’t ringing up one amount and telling the customer something else and pocketing the difference; they are just undercharging random customers. I can only imagine that this is some sort of lashing out at their employer when they are unhappy and feel powerless to do anything else.

I suppose, though, that a slightly more clever employee who wanted to profit themself at the expense of a customer would double charge some items, then later remove the corresponding merchandise from the store and either return it for cash or fence it. I think though, that it’s pretty standard practice, though for employers to check employees bags when they leave the store, to prevent this sort of thing.

At any rate, this behavior is probably not just to prevent shoplifting. Nevertheless, it still pisses me off too.

kchrist says:

Good point, I hadn’t thought of that. I don’t think that’s the case for Target though, because they only check receipts if you have items that aren’t in bags. I’ve never had them ask if everything is bagged.

I can see this intentionally-undercharging being a problem at places with bigger-ticket items like Best Buy. I haven’t been to one in a while, but I do seem to recall seeing them check bag contents against receipts at least once or twice.

I suppose, though, that a slightly more clever employee who wanted to profit themself at the expense of a customer would double charge some items, then later remove the corresponding merchandise from the store

If an employee looking for personal gain is already planning on sneaking the item out himself, he probably wouldn’t bother charging a customer for it. Ringing it up would remove it from the inventory, but the risk here is actually getting the merchandise out of the store, not that the inventory will come up wrong.

I know Apple does bag checks when their employees leave for the day. Whenever Sarai brought her iPod or Powerbook to work, she had to fill out a “personal technology card” with their serial numbers so she could show that she came in with them.